This essay will discuss the history of asylum seekers coming to Australia’s shores and explore most recent guidelines in relation to the issues surrounding new arrivals of asylum seekers. It will also provide an overview on the attitudes towards asylum seekers within Australia as part of encouraging integration of people from different cultures. This paper also will intend to address the issues asylum seekers and refugees are facing in Australia. The policy on Asylum Seekers and Refugees remains one of the most argumentative topics in today’s Australia. Australians have witnessed numerous changes in this area over recent months. They are happening quite often and very quickly, which makes it really difficult to stay on top of the facts resulting in the community struggling most of the time to have a clear understanding of the human rights concerns rising from the situation facing by asylum seekers and refugees arriving in Australia by boat.
As the complex issues surrounding asylum seekers in Australia are increasingly challenged, constant changes due to globalisation and population flow affect Australia’s political, economic and social attitude towards the people who are seeking asylum (Jupp, 2007). “As at 31 December 2012, there were 45.2 million people in the world who had been forcibly displaced from their homes as a result of persecution, conflict, generalised violence and human rights violations – the highest number in 18 years.14 During 2012 an average of 23,000 people per day were forced to abandon their homes due to conflict and persecution” (UNHCR global trends, 2012, p.5) “To understand the desperation faced by asylum seekers is hard, and we can only draw from media coverage or second-hand knowledge, if not personally experienced” (Suter, 2001). The Settlement Council of Australia (SOCA) defines refugee as a “victim of oppression who fits the description of a refugee as set out in the 1951 agreement concerning the Status of Refugees, of which Australia is a participant, whereas an asylum seeker has already sought protection from the government under international law and is awaiting a decision on their status” (SOCA, 2012).
Most will have fled from their homeland in attempt to escape the oppression, war, and unbearable abuse of their human rights. SOCA also states that “the reinstatement of processing migrant’s off-shore will have a large impact psychologically on people who are vulnerable with a bleak and uncertain outlook surrounding their status in Australia. For those arriving by boat separation from their families is traumatic and the restoration of devastated families is a main element in settling successfully. Asylum seekers will need continued support from the community during difficult times of change while establishing a safer and more protected life” (SOCA, 2012). Asylum is not a choice; asylum seekers lose their personal and professional identities, religious ceremonies and culture. By making the decision to leave their homeland, asylum seekers face numerous social and economic problems in an attempt to resettle in the new and unknown place. As Jupp (2007) stresses out, the first emigrants from Europe arrived in Australia in 1788, letting in 160,000 convicts. The 1901 Immigration Restriction Act – ‘White Australia Policy’ declared the ban of non- Europeans entry into Australia.
Current Australian Government Department of Immigration and Border Protection assesses claims made by asylum seekers under the Migrations Act 1988 and Migration Regulations 1994. Until recent policy change there was an independent review process (RRT) in place for people arrived by boat, called “irregular maritime arrivals” and asylum was granted on individual circumstances after thorough background checks, which in some cases can take many years. Whilst waiting for their immigration status to be resolved, asylum seekers have to remain in detention centres (Commonwealth, 2012). Australia upholds one of the most restricting immigration detention systems in the world. “It is mandatory, not time limited, and people are not able to challenge the need for their detention in a court of law. The Commission has for many years called for an end to this system because it leads to breaches of human rights obligations under treaties to which Australia is a party” (The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)Asylum seekers, refugees and human rights: Snapshot report 2013,p. 3). The newly elected government policy change promised to remove the independent review process (RRT) as well as the Judicial Review, which most likely will result in a genuine refugees have their claims rejected and unsuccessful applicants removed from Australia, returning to the countries where their lives are in danger. The Temporary Protection Visas (TPV) will replace the Protection ones which might result in increased mental health issues as the people will try to cope with the continued uncertainty of the legal status.
TPVs will only last for three years and the holders will not be allowed to sponsor their relatives or visit their homeland on the grounds that their visa will be suspended. This most likely encourages their loved ones to attempt getting to Australia by boat (Reilly, 2013). “The current view of multiculturalism and the approach to asylum seekers amongst Australians today, is still mixed” (McMaster, 2001).The statistics published by the Department of Immigration show that “when the Refugees Convention was set up in 1951 around 1.5 million immigrants existed worldwide. Towards the close of 2010 that figure had risen to 43.7 million, comprising many refugees, some 15 million with over 838,000 seekers of asylum and 27million relocated from their country of origin” (Commonwealth, 2012). “Whilst it is difficult to account for exactly why people are displaced, a large number may be foreign students and people looking for changes in lifestyle, due to globalisation and easier forms of transport” (Xu, 2007). “There are still many people from war torn countries escaping from oppressive and deadly regimes looking for an improved lifestyle for their relatives and loved ones” (Lusher & Haslam, 2007). “Australia has resettled around 800,000 refugees since World War II, building one of the world’s most successful multicultural societies. Today, Australia continues to have a generous resettlement programme and, along with the United States and Canada, has ranked consistently among the world’s top three resettlement countries” (AHRC, Asylum seekers, refugees and human rights: Snapshot report 2013, p. 3).
Australia is a culturally diverse country. Racial discrimination was once a fundamental part of the general Australian community, for example the Aboriginal Australians, was viewed as racially unacceptable, as all others, who were not “white”. As Lusher and Haslam (2007) discuss, “historically up to the First World War, the admission of Europeans to Australia was virtually unobstructed, so there was no motive to assess immigrants entering due to persecution in their country of origin. The Second World War saw the admission of many Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany with Australia assisting in an international aid scheme”. “Following on from the ever-increasing influx of refugees, Australia was one of the first to sign the United Nations document on the Status of Refugees in 1951” (Jupp, 2007). The numbers of refugees and asylum seekers is increasing yearly, according to the statistics from the Refugee Council of Australia, “five people arrived by boat during 1975 to 1976 compared to 4,730 on 89 boats during 2010 to 2011” (Refugee Council, 2012). Yon (2000) stresses that many Australians of “old – white” origin still do not recognise the multiculturalism’s view of the “new” Australia. These fundamental concepts not only disregard ethnic cultures, but also are damaging, as they are leaving “old” Australians on the outside of a multicultural Australia. On July 21, 2012 in The Australian, Cameron Stewart debates, that the “government’s current policy on refugees and asylum seekers which has, until recently, been the one of the basic key stones of Australia’s commitment to human rights and is now in danger of collapse”.
The ineffectiveness of the current policy is highlighted by the inability of the government to prevent people smugglers bringing more boats to Australian shores, hence more and more people are arriving. But, the government “continued to maintain a policy, initiated in 1996 by the Howard government, which set a cap on the intake allowed each year and which is currently much lower than the influx of new refugees to these shores” (Stewart, 2012). The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) (Article 13) declares “people should be able to leave their place of origin with a right to decent health care, food, housing and a right to the safekeeping in areas of welfare such as unemployment, illness of death of a family member” (Article 25). The UDHR also states (Article 2) that “no one should be discriminated against based on of his or her viewpoint politically, or his or her status internationally” (UDHR 2012, cited Xu, Q 2007). The United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) advised Australia in April 2010” to seek out better options than the detention of asylum seekers who arrive by boat. The UNHRC is still in discussion with the Australian government on the best way to reduce the deferment of the mounting claims for asylum and compulsory detention, whilst concentrating on the wellbeing and health of asylum seekers in Australia” (UNHRC, 2012). Babbie (2010) suggests that understandably, a person who has lived in a society with diverse rules and meanings may have difficulties, at the beginning, adjusting to the Australian contemporary society.
It is therefore will be quite beneficial to understand the asylum seekers as people who are “displaced from their “norm” and are reacting against that displacement”. “Structural functionalism would be looking to understand why problems are occurring and what could be done to effectively integrate the asylum seekers into the Australian larger society, taking into account the adjustments that would be needed for those people to assimilate” (Babbie 2010). According to Xu (2007), using the welfare benefit system is vital for the process of settlement for the immigrants. Yet as Xu (2007) notes, “resentment amongst many Australian citizens is building towards asylum seekers as they often take low-paid jobs, out of necessity, which contributes to employment issues and a sense of insecurity for many indigenous and natural born workers”. As a result, over the last 20 years Australia has centred its immigration policy on integrating asylum seekers and refugees, debating about multiculturalism, how that distracts the Australians, and little on the well-being of the displaced people, suffered torture and trauma, sometimes under horrible conditions (Xu, 2007). To conclude the overview of the complexity of the asylum seekers issues in Australia it is clear that “many factors may disrupt feelings amongst native Australians, and unless handled sensitively, the deep rooted fear of invasion, which still endures for many, will not go away” (Jupp, 2007). As Bessant and Watts (2007) states, “when viewed through the paradigm of the structural functionalism theory, the current Australian policies on the treatment of asylum seekers create maladaptation and malignancies”.
A real argument is present, stresses Jupp (2007), which is “globalisation”. More people daily are arriving to Australia and constantly interacting with other countries and cultures.” The frenetic pace of globalisation and the ensuing and inevitable cultural change in the form of assimilation is inevitable” (Xu, 2007). The importance, according to Xu (2007) should be placed on a strategic approach that will result in a long-term solution to prioritise the welfare and safety needs of asylum seekers across Australia. “While there has been a significant increase in asylum seekers seeking protection in Australia in recent years, Australia’s share of asylum applications remains a very small part in comparison to the global total (about 2.2%)” (Asylum seekers, refugees and human rights: Snapshot report 2013, p. 3).